What do you get when you pull off 90-plus events at an iconic wine and food festival on South Beach in February attended by more than 50,000 participants?
You get a lot of happy people at this year's successful The Food Network & Cooking Channel South Beach Wine & Food Festival presented by Capital One (SOBEWFF).
From celebrity sightings to chef demonstrations, to wine seminars, and gourmet brunches and dinners, the four-day Festival, Feb. 24-27, had many great moments. The highlight for many was the more than 1,200 FIU student volunteers working alongside some of the world's top chefs and event producers.
"Everybody went above and beyond to bring the Festival back in such a great, great way. The feedback has just been astronomical," said Lee Brian Schrager, SOBEWFF® director and founder.
The 21st annual Festival kicked off with a first: the debut of Coke Zero Sugar presents Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives LIVE hosted by Guy Fieri. Guests tasted more than 30 bites from establishments featured on the popular Food Network show.
The celebrity chef was also recognized and honored, along with Bill and Peter Deutsch of Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits, for their outstanding accomplishments in the culinary community at the annual Tribute Dinner at the Loew's Hotel on South Beach.
Among the evening's highlights was a silent auction hosted by Food Network and Cooking Channel star Jeff Mauro, which had people bidding on a chance to hang out with Fieri. The event raised more scholarship money than ever for students at FIU's Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management.
Starting Friday and throughout the weekend, the public got to see Cecilia.ai, the world's first robot bartender powered by Artificial Intelligence, in action inside the FIU tent at the Goya Foods' Grand Tasting Village (GTV) and FIU Bacardi Center of Excellence activation showcasing the "Future of Hospitality."
Festival-goers lined up to say "Hi Cecilia" and order their favorite, fruity, sweet or sour cocktail. The seven-foot-tall robot can serve 120 cocktails per hour and made her debut at the FIU Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management as a teaching tool to address worker shortages. During the SOBEWFF® weekend, she served more than 1,000 drinks.
The drinks were crafted by the members of the student club, the Bartender's Guild at FIU. For the second year in a row, students won and took home the People’s Choice Award at this year’s Art of Tiki Cocktail Showdown presented by BACARDĺ Rums and Patrón Tequila hosted by Enrique Santos.
The tiki-inspired cocktail creation competition pits South Florida’s best mixologists against each other. FIU’s perfect winning cocktail called the “Roaring Mana” was named after FIU’s mascot, “Roary,” and “mana”, which embodies the Polynesian spirit. The recipe includes Patron Tequila, passion fruit puree, guanabana and Filthy’s black cherry.
Visitors to the FIU tent enjoyed an innovative, new restaurant concept called "ChutneyMex" created by FIU Chaplin School students. Their Mexican fusion tostada even got a social media shout-out from NBC News reporter Kerry Sanders, who was on-site to cover Cecilia and the rise of robot usage in the hospitality industry.
Chutney Mex was just one of the featured foods during the weekend that also included StartUp FIU and alumni businesses, such as Jenifer Shwartz's Oh My, Cookie Pie!, Lorena Malavet's Lulu Plantain Chips, and so many more.
Over the weekend, the fun continued in Hallandale Beach, with Goya Foods' Family Fun Fest featuring Kidz Kitchen, where participants enjoyed treats, took part in fun and fit activities, and little aspiring chefs interacted with their culinary heroes during kid-friendly cooking demonstrations.
The Festival has matured during its 21 years and has come to include a mix of local and nationally known diverse chefs and big-name celebrities. Eva Longoria Baston chatted with guests while promoting her new, female-owned tequila brand, Casa Del Sol.
Basketball star and 305 favorite Dwyane Wade hosted an event at Miami's newest food hall, Citizens Miami, and was a judge during the popular Red Stripe Burger Bash presented by Schweid & Sons. Actress Kate Hudson combined cocktails and yoga, as she promoted her new King St. Vodka at both her Peace Love Yoga event at Nikki Beach Club and during Grand Tasting Village.
The mission of the Festival is Eat. Drink. Educate. The education portion is interwoven throughout the Festival with students working alongside industry professionals.
"There were so many happy faces that I saw, a lot of smiling faces and happy guests and most importantly happy volunteers," said Michael Cheng, dean of FIU's Chaplin School.
To date, the Festival has raised more than $31.8 million for FIU's Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management. That number could go up very soon. But until then, save the date for next year.
The 22nd annual South Beach Wine & Food Festival® is scheduled for February 23-26, 2023.